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Open House Etiquette: What Not to Open At an Open House

An agent explains the do's and don'ts of open houses.

I opened the door and said hello, greeting the approaching couple with a warm smile. She walked past my outstretched hand and stated, “We have an agent.” He awkwardly shook my hand, his eyes sending an apology. As I told her about the home she never once looked me in the eye, but instead eyeballed the house impatiently.

“The kitchen is so small,” she said.

It was hard not to be defensive. My listings are like my own children. I know all about their flaws, but love them anyway.

“You can open this wall with very little trouble if you wanted,” I said. She was visibly annoyed at what she thought was my sales technique. Truth be told, the wall can be opened, enlarging the kitchen, with very little trouble.

“I don’t like carpet,” she stated as we walked through the master bedroom. I informed her that there is hardwood underneath.

She walks through the rest of the home as if she is sucking on a lemon.

I’d liked to have kicked her in the bottom as she left. It probably would have gotten an involuntary laugh out of her poor husband. I didn’t give them my card because in a perfect world, I would never see them again.

In her outside voice she complained to her husband, “The kitchen is so small, and the basement, I can’t believe she likes that basement.” Another couple was heading toward the front door, clearly hearing the comments.

I greeted them knowing that the woman’s bad behavior had cast a shadow over my lovely listing.

There are rules of behavior that most of us are accustomed to following. We teach our children to say please and thank you. We whisper in the library. We bring gifts to the hostess when she has us for a visit. But for some reason, when people enter the homes of others for Open Houses, polite behavior is left behind.

I’ve provided some rules of etiquette for open houses. You may find it incredulous that anyone would do such things, but agents know these behaviors are common.

1- Say “hello” to the person that greets you at the door. He/she is a fellow human.

2- You’re not Simon Cowell. Don’t critique the décor.

3- Don’t ask why they are moving. That is a personal and confidential topic.

4- Stay out of the refrigerator. It most likely doesn’t come with the house.

5- Don’t open the kitchen cabinets unless you are looking at the door quality or features of the cabinets. What they have inside them is none of your business.

6- Stay together with your family or group. It’s not a scavenger hunt.

7- Don’t let your children jump on beds or touch things. That includes toys.

8- Unless you were hired as the home inspector, don’t diagnose problems with the house. If floors are uneven, it doesn’t mean the house is caving in and a crack in the wall doesn’t mean always mean there is a structural problem.

9- Restrain from making negative comments until you are in your car and the doors are closed. The young couple behind you may think it’s their dream house.

10- Most importantly, remember the Golden Rule and treat others the way you would like to be treated.

Opening your home to the public to is a difficult task for all homeowners. Remember that it may be your house that is open next.

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Steve December 14, 2012 at 04:11 PM
Beth, would it not be acceptable for you to reply with "The sellers are moving for personal reasons" when asked the question by a potential buyer? I always ask why the sellers are moving because hopefully the listing agent is an honest person and he/she will answer me truthfully. And if the sellers reason for moving (such as "the house is too big for them now that their kids have moved out") then that's fine. But if the answer is "the house next door has very noisy owners" or "the traffic on this street is jammed most of the day" then that will help me decide if the house is for me. Of course, I'm probably being a bit wishful in thinking that people are always going to be honest with me. But I owe it to myself to ask the question of the listing agent.
Mark McCullough December 14, 2012 at 07:53 PM
Steve, you "...always ask why the sellers are moving..."? How many open houses do you go to? Just testing listing agent's honesty as a public service? No real estate agent is going to stay in business in this tightly-knit area for long if they develop a reputation for lying to buyers. Managing the dynamics of the agent/buyer relationship is the responsibility of the parties to that relationship, and not the business of a self-appointed real estate Diogenes.
Steve January 11, 2013 at 03:41 AM
Mark, no, public service or testing honesty has nothing to do with it. I ask the question because I'd like an honest answer. And perhaps I'll get one. It doesn't hurt to ask. And hopefully the answer won't be rude and sarcastic...like your snide comment.
Mark McCullough January 11, 2013 at 03:48 AM
But, Steve, you missed the point. If you're looking to BUY the house, then fine. Ask away. If you're not - and clearly you don't go to open houses looking to buy a house - why waste the realtor's time. Again...it just looks like you want to test their honesty.
Steve January 11, 2013 at 03:57 AM
Who the heck says I'm not looking to buy the house? Where did you get that from? OF COURSE I'm looking to buy a house. I'm not going to waste my time going to Open Houses if I'm not looking to buy, for Pete's sake.

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